Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

And now Harry stood in the Headmaster’s office yet again. It was night-time, and Dumbledore sagged sideways in the throne- like chair behind the desk, apparently semi-conscious. His right hand dangled over the side, blackened and burned. Snape was muttering incantations, pointing his wand at the wrist of the hand, while with his left hand he tipped a goblet full of thick golden potion down Dumbledore’s throat. After a moment or two, Dumbledore’s eyelids fluttered and opened. ‘Why,’ said Snape, without preamble, ‘why did you put on that ring? It carries a curse, surely you realised that. Why even touch it?’ Marvolo Gaunt’s ring lay on the desk before Dumbledore. It was cracked; the sword of Gryffindor lay beside it. Dumbledore grimaced. ‘I ... was a fool. Sorely tempted ...’ ‘Tempted by what?’ Dumbledore did not answer. ‘It is a miracle you managed to return here!’ Snape sounded furious. ‘That ring carried a curse of extraordinary power, to contain it is all we can hope for; I have trapped the curse in one hand for the time being –’ Dumbledore raised his blackened, useless hand, and examined it with the expression of one being shown an interesting curio. ‘You have done very well, Severus. How long do you think I have?’ Dumbledore’s tone was conversational; he might have been asking for a weather forecast. Snape hesitated, and then said, ‘I cannot tell. Maybe a year. There is no halting such a spell forever. It will spread, eventually, it is the sort of curse that strengthens over time.’ Dumbledore smiled. The news that he had less than a year to live seemed a matter of little or no concern to him. ‘I am fortunate, extremely fortunate, that I have you, Severus.’ ‘If you had only summoned me a little earlier, I might have been able to do more, buy you more time!’ said Snape furiously.He looked down at the broken ring and the sword. ‘Did you think that breaking the ring would break the curse?’

‘Something like that ... I was delirious, no doubt ...’ said Dumbledore. With an effort, he straightened himself in his chair. ‘Well, really, this makes matters much more straightforward.’ Snape looked utterly perplexed. Dumbledore smiled. ‘I refer to the plan Lord Voldemort is revolving around me. His plan to have the poor Malfoy boy murder me.’

Snape sat down in the chair Harry had so often occupied, across the desk from Dumbledore. Harry could tell that he wanted to say more on the subject of Dumbledore’s cursed hand, but the other held it up in polite refusal to discuss the matter further. Scowling, Snape said, ‘The Dark Lord does not expect Draco to succeed. This is merely punishment for Lucius’s recent failures. Slow torture for Draco’s parents, while they watch him fail and pay the price.’

‘In short, the boy has had a death sentence pronounced upon him as surely as I have,’ said Dumbledore. ‘Now, I should have thought the natural successor to the job, once Draco fails, is yourself?’ There was a short pause. ‘That, I think, is the Dark Lord’s plan.’ ‘Lord Voldemort foresees a moment in the near future when he will not need a spy at Hogwarts?’ ‘He believes the school will soon be in his grasp, yes.’ ‘And if it does fall into his grasp,’ said Dumbledore, almost, it seemed, as an aside, ‘I have your word that you will do all in your power to protect the students of Hogwarts?’ Snape gave a stiff nod. ‘Good. Now then. Your first priority will be to discover what Draco is up to. A frightened teenage boy is a danger to others as well as to himself. Offer him help and guidance, he ought to accept, he likes you –’

‘– much less since his father has lost favour. Draco blames me, he thinks I have usurped Lucius’s position.’

‘All the same, try. I am concerned less for myself than for accidental victims of whatever schemes might occur to the boy.Ultimately, of course, there is only one thing to be done if we are to save him from Lord Voldemort’s wrath.’ Snape raised his eyebrows and his tone was sardonic as he asked, ‘Are you intending to let him kill you?’ ‘Certainly not. You must kill me.’ There was a long silence, broken only by an odd clicking noise. Fawkes the phoenix was gnawing a bit of cuttlebone. ‘Would you like me to do it now?’ asked Snape, his voice heavy with irony. ‘Or would you like a few moments to compose an epitaph?’ ‘Oh, not quite yet,’ said Dumbledore, smiling. ‘I daresay the moment will present itself in due course. Given what has happened tonight,’ he indicated his withered hand, ‘we can be sure that it will happen within a year.’ ‘If you don’t mind dying,’ said Snape roughly, ‘why not let Draco do it?’ ‘That boy’s soul is not yet so damaged,’ said Dumbledore. ‘I would not have it ripped apart on my account.’ ‘And my soul, Dumbledore? Mine?’ ‘You alone know whether it will harm your soul to help an old man avoid pain and humiliation,’ said Dumbledore. ‘I ask this one, great favour of you, Severus, because death is coming for me as surely as the Chudley Cannons will finish bottom of this year’s league. I confess I should prefer a quick, painless exit to the protracted and messy affair it will be if, for instance, Greyback is involved – I hear Voldemort has recruited him? Or dear Bellatrix, who likes to play with her food before she eats it.’ His tone was light but his blue eyes pierced Snape as they had frequently pierced Harry, as though the soul they discussed was visible to him. At last Snape gave another curt nod. Dumbledore seemed satisfied. ‘Thank you, Severus ...’



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